Something From Everything  

Kiss the Earth with your feet

This morning, I’m in pain.

It’s not terrible at the moment, but it’s right there (there being an ever-moving target along the nerve pathway of my right leg).

A few weeks ago, a spasm of sharp, grabbing pain suddenly relocated from my lower back to my right hip, where it began sending unexpected pain shooting across my right buttock, groin, and down through the front of my right shin.

My sciatic nerve was not happy.

The pain came on suddenly, unexpectedly, and erratically. And it has stayed with me since. Like an unwanted guest, far overstaying their welcome.

Since then, I’ve tried a number of stretches, visited massage therapists, employed alternating hot and cold compresses to the muscles in question.

The overall pain has diminished, but to this day, an overextending of my leg, an unexpected turn to the side, or a bend at the waist, will create a spasm that takes my breath away (and usually has me making some involuntary sound that send my family running to see if I’m OK).

What does help, invariably, is walking.

Not at first, of course. At first, each step feels unnatural, pain flaring at a certain rotation, or as I first put my full weight down into my shoe. The first few steps are always limping, as one of my kids (or partner!) asks me if they should grab my cane or walker.

(That is doubly insulting because they laugh at me and they never hand me a cane or walker)

Eventually, after a few painful and stuttering steps, I begin to find a rhythm; one foot in front of the other, equal stride and weight placed as I move. But it’s always slow and careful. The spasms of pain remain inconsistent, so each movement is measured, intentional, and sensing.

I walk slowly, aware that each movement may need to be modified mid stride. I am fully aware of each step. I am aware of each and every time my shoe touches the earth.

Today, after walking my youngest to the nearby elementary school, I veered off and walked along a path littered with overgrowth and uneven terrain. Each step came slowly, feeling the leaves, twigs, and small gravel give way under my foot.

The sound of the dirt moving beneath my shoe as I shifted my weight. It reminded me of the advice from Zen Master Thich Nat Hahn: “Walk as if you were kissing the Earth with your feet.”

Those words from the Buddhist monk have often been in my head when I am walking. Not that I’m especially practised at it. Those who have gone on retreats with the master relate that they spend hours or days in silence, simply walking, simply attempting to apply this rule to each step.

But now, in my pain, I can understand it more than ever before. Before, even as I attempted to be mindful of each step, my pace would slow only as long as I focused my attention on it.

As soon as the master’s words slipped away from the forefront of my mind, I would unconsciously return to my brisk, utilitarian stride. A quick stride is useful in a lot of our day to day activities, but “brisk” and “utilitarian” are not the adjectives you want associated with kissing.

But now, in my injury, each step is measured, gentle, aware of its weight and force. Each foot touches the Earth with a tenderness and a reaching curiosity usually reserved for only the most intimate of touches.

“Kissing the Earth with your feet” sounds superfluous, an attempt to spiritualize the most mundane of actions, simply putting one foot in front of the other. And, of course, it is.

That is the great challenge hidden within even the simplest of tasks. That each action could be undertaken with our whole being, if we had the intention and mindfulness for it.

Nothing brings mindfulness to the present moment like pain.

Pain is the message delivered in ALL CAPS. Pain reminds us exactly where we are. Exactly what we are doing. It has been incredibly hard to become lost in thought these days.

Each time I sit, my right hip muscles call out to me: “WE ARE HERE! WE DON”T LIKE THIS POSITION!”

Each time I stand, or step forward, those same muscles and nerve endings scream to me, "YOU ARE HERE! IN YOUR WOUNDED BODY! MOVE SLOWLY!”

Yet, my immediate response to pain is always the desire to escape it. When I’m in pain, I want to be in any moment by the present. I don’t want to hear what my body is saying to me right now.

I want to reach for something on the ground without paying the price for imperfect posture. I want to escape from my painful body with a podcast, a show or a video game.

I want to numb those same nerve endings with medications or alcohol. The pain makes me want to ignore, escape, or numb exactly what it is trying to tell me.

But despite these desires, the only healing I have found is slowly and tenderly moving through the pain.

So, how are you responding to pain?

You don’t have to be in physical pain, of course. The pain doesn’t even have to be yours, personally. Because there is pain all around us.

This is true in years not marked by pandemics, economic and political uncertainty, and isolation, but it’s unquestionably true now. And as with all forms of pain, some will attempt to ignore it, some will seek to escape it, and some will attempt to numb it.

I don’t know a single one of us who have not utilized these tactics to gain a small reprieve in these past few months. I certainly have. But it doesn’t move us forward. And it doesn’t bring us healing.

Even in the tumultuous year that 2020 has been, life is far too short and precious to be ignored, numbed or distracted from. We need to be able to move forward in full acceptance of the pain that we are experiencing and surrounded by.
But that movement must be slow, careful and mindful.

When we move through this pain, it might look like we are limping (because we are), and it might look painful (because it is). But we will not miss the next days, months, or years in numbness, denial or distraction.

Maybe, even as the pain eventually subsides, we will have learned to move as ones who are slow, mindful, and tender.

We would be those who walk, as if our feet were kissing the Earth. 

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


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About the Author


Matthew Rigby is a grateful husband to one, and father to three. He works as a registered nurse in emergency care, and has spent more than 15 years in healthcare. 

Matt, an avid reader and podcast enthusiast, is committed to great questions and honest discovery.

You can find his podcast "Something From Everything" wherever you listen, and find all his writing at www.somethingfromeverything.com.

You can contact Matthew at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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